REVIEW OF: SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN, BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

Translator: Philip Gabriel Category:Fiction (General) Date Read:20 June 2017 Pages:187 Published:1992
*

The title, South of the Border, West of the Sun, refers lớn a song by Nat King Cole which he apparently never sang. I went looking for a version of it after I finished reading the novel and only found a version sung by a fan in the style of Cole. Nevertheless, the tuy vậy exists in the novel và is listened to by Hajime and Shimamoto, first when they are friends at school, & next when they meet each other 25 years later.

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The novel appears lớn be a simple enough love story. It details Hajime’s early years as he grows into adulthood, including his first early relationship with Shimamota as a 12-year-old and his first sexual experiences with Izumi. Flash forward, và we next find Hajime as a 30-year-old man, married lớn Yukiko with two daughters. With a loan from his father-in-law, Hajime has become the proprietor of two successful jazz bars và his life seems perfect. Except that Shimamoto returns one day.

My copy quotes The Times, whose reviewer suggests that the novel is Casablanca remade Japanese style. Not really. Casablanca is referenced in the novel. Hajime asks his pianist lớn stop playing a song, ‘Star-Crossed Lovers’ & his pianist remarks, Sounds a little lượt thích Casablanca to lớn me! After that, he begins to play ‘As Time Goes By’. There’s also Hajime’s bar, lượt thích Rick’s, & Shimamoto walks back into Hajime’s life there. So, there’s a love triangle, but there’s also Izumi, now a woman strangely broken after her brief relationship with Hajime, lớn play on Hajime’s conscience. It’s Casablanca, of sorts, but as always with Murakami, you get the feeling there is more happening here than a love affair.

The story begins by explaining Hajime’s strange obsession. He is an only child & this makes him feel separate khổng lồ his peers. The period is post-war japan when Japanese couples were being encouraged khổng lồ have more children. Hajime knows no other only-children until he meets Shimamoto, and they khung an innocent relationship, becoming friends & listening khổng lồ records after school. When Shimamoto re-enters Hajime’s life 25 years later she remains a mystery; he doesn’t know what she has been doing, her personal circumstances, or even how she maintains her expensive tastes, as she admits she has never worked a day in her life. Hajime sees the world of work as a liên kết to others’ humanity & his own. Shimamoto, however, seems strangely detached from the reality of everyday life, apart from a personal tragedy, the loss of her baby.

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The sense of the past is essential to lớn this book. It haunts all the major characters, particularly Hajime, since the novel is narrated from his perspective. Central to lớn this is the impossibility of regaining what is lost in the past. Even with Shimamoto returned there are too many things that have happened in between, & their lives have been set. There is no going back. But it is Hajime’s belief, perhaps more of a desire, that this intervening past can be denied in order lớn grasp that chance again, that drives the story.

Hajime’s father-in-law, who speculates on the post-war building boom in nhật bản and tries to lớn draw Hajime into his interests, seems to represent a new, voracious and some-what morally vacuous Japan. Shimamoto, on the other hand, remains steadfastly in the past, blasted by tragedy much lượt thích Izumi. The philosophy of the new world seems to lớn be summed up by an old friend of Hajime’s who denies moral culpability for others in a somewhat social Darwinist creed:

Another person’s life is that person’s life. You can’t take responsibility. It’s as if we’re living in a desert … Rain falls and the flowers bloom. No rain, they wither up. Bugs are eaten by lizards, lizards are eaten by birds. But in the end every one of them dies. They die and dry up. One generation dies, and the next one takes over. That’s how it goes. Lots of different ways khổng lồ live. & lots of different ways to lớn die. But in the end that doesn’t make a bit of difference. All that remains is a desert. (70-71)

For Hajime, this thought is more troubling than comforting. He reflects that Everyone just keeps disappearing … and all that remains is a desert. He is not comforted by the moral neutrality of the desert, but rather, is haunted by the devastation of life và the past that the desert suggests. Và instead of the booming japan envisaged by his father-in-law, he sees the shadow of decay and disintegration lurkin everywhere … like a shadow burned into a wall. (71)

It’s this last image that is most startling. The famous ‘shadows’ of people caught unawares, formed by the atomic explosion in Hiroshima, is a new type of devastation refashioned as a metaphor for memory, life and its impermanence in the novel. The spectre of Shimamoto in Hajime’s life is also the spectre of the bomb across Japanese culture. Lượt thích the shadows of Hiroshima, individual lives are fragile và transient. Things that have khung will all disappear, Shimamoto tells Hajime, But certain feelings stay with us forever. All life is conditional, she seems lớn say, lượt thích her constant use of the words probably and for a while that so frustrates Hajime’s desire for certainty. Yet Hajime already understands this conditionality. When Hajime reflects upon his wife & their marriage he remembers Shimamoto’s words:

If things had taken even the slightest of wrong turns, I wouldn’t be holding her toàn thân like this. Gently warm and soft. Beneath my palm I could feel her life. No one could say how long that life would last. Whatever has size can disappear in an instant. (121)

When he meets Shimamoto again he is drawn to lớn the same thinking:

You’re here … At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just your shadow. The real you may be somewhere else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago. (150)

The novel, I find, is deceptively simple. It is natural to lớn compare it khổng lồ something lượt thích Casablanca. But as much as I love that movie, I find this novel far more subtle, suggestive & complex. Casablanca’s characters are, ultimately, uncomplicated, despite the seeming complications of emotions suggested by the love triangle. Victor Laszlo is staunch và patriotic, Rick is, at heart, a hero and Illsa was in love with two men, but it is hardly her fault. Hajime, on the other hand, is morally grey. He knowingly deceives his wife & is xuất hiện to all manner of temptations. Yet he is also a moral voice within the novel and the character with whom we empathise in his struggle to define himself. And while Shimamoto is the focus of Hajime’s lãng mạn desires, she is also a cipher, a shadow of Japan’s idealism & its self-destructive past, an echo of a life that might have been, và a danger to a life Hajime might yet live.

And the Nat King Cole tuy nhiên that never was? Its use by Murakami is lượt thích one of those turns in life that might have been: one of those instances where it might have existed but then never was; lượt thích a love left behind that can only be dreamed of, now, in the present; lượt thích something that might have had size but is now only a feeling. The tuy nhiên in the novel is a metaphor for all of this. But when Hajime and Shimamoto contrive a meaning from the song, south of the border is somewhere ideal, somewhere beautiful, but west of the sun is a madness, unobtainable & ultimately self-destructive. There is a choice being presented in this interpretation. Probably is a word you may find south of the border, Hajime reflects, But never, ever, west of the sun. In each choice is the possibility of life or destruction.

This is a beautifully written book, subtle & suggestive of so many things. Each character and aspect of the book reflects another, and encourages contemplation beyond anything a đánh giá this length could suggest. Highly recommended.

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